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Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer Hardcover – Bargain Price, October 28, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
By David M. Kinchen
Abraham Lincoln was a rising star in the new Republican Party when he was invited in August 1859 to speak at the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society fair in Milwaukee at the end of September. He accepted the offer despite a busy court schedule, relates Fred Kaplan in "Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer" (HarperCollins, 416 pages, $27.95).
Kaplan, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English at Queens College in New York City, devotes more space in his book to this speech than he does to more famous literary efforts by Lincoln, including the Gettysburg Address. Using perhaps the best analytical mind of any of our presidents, Lincoln presented a powerful but subtle argument for freedom at a time when the nation was about to be torn asunder over slavery. To put the speech into its historical context, John Brown's raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia), was only a few weeks in the future (Oct. 16, 1859).
Arranging the opening elements of the Milwaukee speech like a poem, Kaplan creates verse that is reminiscent of Walt Whitman, whose "Leaves of Grass" was first published in 1855 and revised several times thereafter.
Here are the opening lines from Kaplan's typographical realignment of the opening of Lincoln's September 1859 Milwaukee speech:
Every blade of grass is a study;
And to produce two,
Where there was but one,
Is both a profit and a pleasure.Read more ›
Lincoln was a very guarded and private man, and so much of the evidence mined by Kaplan is necessarily circumstantial. In particular, he draws many inferences about Lincoln's private beliefs from authors he likely carefully read as a youth, such as Burns, Byron and Shakespeare. Professor Kaplan's expertise in literature and history makes him well suited to this task. And many of the inferences he draws do seem very plausible.
Still, I give the book only 4 stars rather than 5, because it seems that Professor Kaplan gets carried away at times with his speculations about Lincoln's thought life, projecting greater certainty than the circumstantial evidence would warrant, and downplaying contrary evidence.
For example, Professor Kaplan seems anxious to establish that Lincoln did not believe in the afterlife. He returns to that point repeatedly throughout the book. Yet he quotes from a speech that Lincoln gave in honor of Washington, which stated his belief that the deceased Washington was only sleeping, and that "the last trump shall awaken our Washington." (Page 78) Kaplan does not comment on the significance of these words -- he quotes the speech for another purpose. Yet Lincoln was very careful with the language of his public statements, seeking honesty and precision. And he chose his words on religion very carefully. Why then would he have given a speech stating his belief that Washington's soul was only sleeping, and that he would be resurrected at the end of time?
(I suspect that Lincoln was uncertain about the immortality of the soul in his early years.Read more ›
Yes! And a great book. From his love letters to the Gettysburg and second inaugural addresses, Lincoln was a master of putting great ideas into succinct words. In contrast to recent presidents, who are "too busy" to read much of anything, Lincoln and John Quincy Adams are the only presidents for whom literature and life were inseparable.
During his presidency, his two favourite volumes were Shakespeare's plays and the Bible -- both written in the same era -- in which he found an echo of the tragedy of the American Civil War. Most significantly, he did not often read to relax. Lincoln read to educate himself, to improve his mind and to understand the motives and methods of himself and others.
Think of the current financial crisis in which "deregulation" became liberty for bankers and a disaster for consumers. Lincoln understood such issues in terms of stories, such as "the shepherd who drives the wolf from the sheep's throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a Black one. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty."
"The claim that white Liberty requires Black servitude is a definition of liberty, in Lincoln's telling phrase, from 'the wolf's dictionary', and that dictionary must be repudiated," Kaplan wrote. Think of the impact today had former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan read and understood as much as deeply as Lincoln.
From his earliest days Lincoln used stories to illustrate his views. This explains the origins of the quality of his writing, both in terms of style and content.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Very interesting analysis and made a lot of connections that were interesting.Published 8 months ago by puttgirl
A lot of information, but a slow, ponderous reading experience.Published 9 months ago by lawrence R hamilton
I must confess I bought this book used. I took it to the mountains to read on vacation. All was well until I got to Pg 58 (or maybe 54) when author Kaplan wrote that Lincoln had... Read morePublished 9 months ago by JRRTFAN
Really interesting -- necessarily an in-depth research project by the author. Well written, a compelling case for our favorite Lincoln seen as a writer -- which also involves his... Read morePublished 12 months ago by Jane Maule
One of the best of the numerous Lincoln books I have read. It is not a chronicle of his political life, rather follows his education (mostly self) and explores reasons and methods... Read morePublished 12 months ago by Gerald L Foley